The Hardest Thing You'll Ever Have to Do in Business

Anna Johansson

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Do you ever feel one way inside, yet talk and act another way externally? You aren't the only one. Plenty of people experience the friction of this conflict and have a hard time reconciling the apparent hypocrisy. But, what you may not realize is that you're up against a biological challenge in which your brain sometimes prioritizes self-preservation and protection over doing what's right. One area where this is most evident is in the average person's inability to say no—even when it needs to be said.

Why Is It Hard to Say No?

While some people have perfected the ability to say no, most people have an innate penchant for always saying yes (even when it isn't in their best interests to say so). This action happens for numerous reasons, including:

  • We live in a culture where it's considered polite to say yes to anyone and everyone. Saying no is often considered selfish and politically incorrect.
  • Saying no can mean letting someone down or hurting their feelings. It's much easier to affirm what they want to hear.
  • When you say yes to a request, the conversation often stops there. Saying no can invoke backlash and cause friction—making a small issue into a bigger deal.
  • You want to be a team player. Saying no makes you look self-serving and uncooperative.
  • It's not easy to go against the crowd. Even as an adult, peer pressure is a real thing. Saying no generally means going against what others want to do.


4 Tips for Saying No

Whether you realize it or not, all of these factors are rolling around in your brain and influencing whether you say yes or no. Overriding your brain's innate ways of thinking is challenging but possible. Here's how you can become better at saying no:

1. Set Boundaries Ahead of Time

"You have to know what you're going to do in a situation before the situation ever occurs. If you're making key decisions in the moment, your answer will be heavily influenced by situational factors and emotions," Houston property management company Green Residential explains.

In other words, you need to set boundaries ahead of time. When you already have your mind made up—or at least know where you stand on certain issues—it's much easier to give a yes or no.

2. Be Strong in Your Language and Reasoning

Saying no is difficult when you aren't committed. Others will sense your hesitancy or weakness and fail to take you seriously. If you want others to respect your no, be strong in your language and reasoning. Make eye contact, control your tone of voice, and avoid over-apologizing and making excuses. Simple and straight to the point is the way to go.

3. Think About Your Feelings

It's nice and compassionate to think about the feelings of others, but it's unwise to always put someone else's emotions first. Doing so will prove far more damaging in the long run.

Instead of always thinking about how a no would impact someone else, consider how bad, anxious, or regretful saying yes would make you feel. What you'll discover is that you often appease others at the expense of yourself.

4. Say Yes at the Right Times

If you're always saying no to people, they aren't going to take you seriously. You'll be viewed as lacking in compassion. By saying yes when the moment is right, your no's will be given more credence.

Start Saying No

You don't necessarily want to be known as someone who always says no, but there's a lot of value in being open, honest, and transparent—even when it makes you feel uncomfortable. Once you understand what's holding you back, you can tweak your approach and implement some small changes that turn your "fake" yes's into genuine no's.

Anna is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. She is also a columnist for Entrepreneur.com, Forbes.com, and more. Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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